Intensive agriculture reduces soil biodiversity across Europe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Soil biodiversity plays a key role in regulating the processes that underpin the delivery of ecosystem goods and services in terrestrial ecosystems. Agricultural intensification is known to change the diversity of individual groups of soil biota, but less is known about how intensification affects biodiversity of the soil food web as a whole, and whether or not these effects may be generalized across regions. We examined biodiversity in soil food webs from grasslands, extensive, and intensive rotations in four agricultural regions across Europe: in Sweden, the UK, the Czech Republic and Greece. Effects of land-use intensity were quantified based on structure and diversity among functional groups in the soil food web, as well as on community-weighted mean body mass of soil fauna. We also elucidate land-use intensity effects on diversity of taxonomic units within taxonomic groups of soil fauna. We found that between regions soil food web diversity measures were variable, but that increasing land-use intensity caused highly consistent responses. In particular, land-use intensification reduced the complexity in the soil food webs, as well as the community-weighted mean body mass of soil fauna. In all regions across Europe, species richness of earthworms, Collembolans, and oribatid mites was negatively affected by increased land-use intensity. The taxonomic distinctness, which is a measure of taxonomic relatedness of species in a community that is independent of species richness, was also reduced by land-use intensification. We conclude that intensive agriculture reduces soil biodiversity, making soil food webs less diverse and composed of smaller bodied organisms. Land-use intensification results in fewer functional groups of soil biota with fewer and taxonomically more closely related species. We discuss how these changes in soil biodiversity due to land-use intensification may threaten the functioning of soil in agricultural production systems.


  • Maria A. Tsiafouli
  • Elisa Thebault
  • Stefanos P. Sgardelis
  • Peter C. de Ruiter
  • Wim H. van der Putten
  • Lia Hemerik
  • Franciska T. de Vries
  • Richard D. Bardgett
  • Mark Vincent Brady
  • Lisa Bjornlund
  • Soren Christensen
  • Stefan Hotes
  • W. H. Gera Hol
  • Jan Frouz
  • Mira Liiri
  • Simon R. Mortimer
  • Heikki Setala
  • Joseph Tzanopoulos
  • Karoline Uteseny
  • Vaclav Pizl
  • Josef Stary
  • Volkmar Wolters
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • agricultural intensification, body mass, ecosystem services, functional, groups, soil food web, taxonomic breadth, taxonomic distinctness, terrestrial ecosystems
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-985
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch